The People's Tribune

‘Model Of The American Spirit’

Clarksville Mayor JoAnne Smiley Is Hailed By President Trump

Jo Anne Smiley sees roadblocks as opportunities to make a difference through selfless hard work.

The Clarksville mayor, businesswoman and retired music educator has been honored for her tireless efforts with the President’s Volunteer Service Award.

It is the nation’s highest honor for volunteer service and Smiley is one of fewer than five Missouri residents who have received a lifetime achievement award.

“You have served as a model of the American spirit,” President Donald Trump said in a letter congratulating Smiley. “Your many hours of service have strengthened the bonds of cooperation and trust that bring people together, while helping to address some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Trump said that one of America’s biggest strengths “remains the compassion of our everyday citizens, who give so willingly of themselves and their lives for the benefit of others.”

“With your continued efforts to build on our Nation’s culture of service, America will proudly remain a land of freedom and opportunity for all,” the President wrote. “Thank you for your enduring commitment to serving your community and our Nation. I trust that you will continue to work for the betterment of others and an even stronger future for the American people.”

More than 65 people attended the Sept. 21 ceremony at Clarksville American Legion Post 349. Among them was State Rep. Jim Hansen of Frankford.

“She’s a dedicated person giving her time to help her community and others,” Hansen said. “She’s an example to all of us.”

Smiley was nominated by Kathy Fleming of Forward Focus, a certifying organization for the awards. Fleming has known the mayor for about a year. At least 4,000 hours of volunteer service is required to be eligible.

“Jo Anne is an angel among us whose faith in God leads her to make a difference with her life,” she said.

Fleming arranged a telephone call from Scott Bush, a nephew of President George H.W. Bush, who founded the volunteer organization Points of Light. The award is an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service and is administered by Points of Light.

Bush said Smiley’s community work is “exactly what we all aspired to see happen” when the foundation was organized in 1988. He said he was “deeply impressed” with Smiley’s “extraordinary work.”

City Clerk Jennifer Calvin has been Smiley’s colleague for 10 years, and admires the mayor for spending just about every day at City Hall.

“She’s there more than she’s at home,” Calvin said.

Smiley was grateful, calling the award “overwhelming” and “a gift never to be matched.” But in typical self-effacing fashion, she took the ceremony as a chance to thank Clarksville residents and others who have helped when the need has arisen.

“Moments like this just do not happen,” she said. “It takes time, it takes effort, it takes people.”

Smiley has had professional and personal difficulties in the 15 years she’s been in office – first as an alderman and the last 13 in the top job – and the 201-year-old Mississippi River town she loves hasn’t had an easy go of it in the 21st century.

Four of the top six floods in town history have happened since 2001. A cement plant that was the largest employer announced in 2008 that it was laying off 181 workers and closing. And a once-thriving artisan community that attracted deep-pocketed customers has dwindled to a handful of shops in the last few years.

Still, there are positive signs.

Transportation is improving with construction of a new U.S. Highway 54 bridge at Louisiana to the north and replacement of decades-old bridges along Mo. Highway 79 to the south.

The hope is that tourists who flock to Eagle Days in January, the twice-a-year 50 Miles of Art exhibition, summer festivals such as the Show-Me Chili Cook-Off and Sunflower Days, and Applefest in October will bring new faces with them on the next visit.

Smiley continues her music ministry by singing at Clarksville United Methodist Church, and rarely misses a community event. One that’s really close to her heart is Santaland. The annual display featuring 300 Santa Clauses, at least 250 snowmen and more than 40 decorated trees from her collection attracts hundreds of visitors.

As for flooding, Smiley remains a vocal advocate of equitable measures. She was part of efforts a decade ago to derail a proposal known as Plan H, which critics said would have caused widespread damage to Clarksville and heavily-populated areas to the south. That battle continues.

The goal now is to fund a temporary wall that could be put in place at Clarksville’s riverfront when water levels rise. Smiley also is a member of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, an advocacy group of 124 mayors that works on flooding and other issues.

Hansen joked that Smiley has “spent more time on the river than Mark Twain,” but was as serious as a swift current when he promised continued efforts to secure state funding for flood protection.

“We’re still dreaming to try to do something to save Clarksville,” he said. “We’ll fight another battle. I’m with you and I’m with her on trying to get this done. One thing about us, we dream big.”

There was one touchingly sad part of the ceremony as Smiley recalled the death on Sept. 16, 2016, of her beloved husband, Wayne. The couple had been married for 42 years.

“The only way today would be better is if he was standing by my side,” she said.

Part of Smiley’s fortitude comes from her farm upbringing, but she paused for a moment when asked what keeps her going.

Perhaps it’s best described by a makeshift sign that was placed by volunteers amid a pile of sandbags along Howard Street just steps from her City Hall office during one of the recent floods. It read “KCCO” – Keep Calm and Carry On.

“Every accomplishment for the community springs you forward,” Smiley said. “Every pothole you get filled gives you the impetus to go fill the next one.”

Several fellow elected officials attended the ceremony for Smiley last week and shared their joy for her with the Trib.

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award than Mayor Smiley,” noted Eastern District Pike County Commissioner Justin Sheppard. “[She] exemplifies what we should all be to our community. She gives so much of herself to her community and the fruites of her actions are evident. I couldn’t think of anyone else who would deserve this award more than Mayor Smiley.”

Louisiana Mayor Marvin Brown echoed those sentiments.

“In the short time I’ve been Mayor of Louisiana I’ve gotten to know and really appreciate JoAnn,” Brown stated. “She is a tireless advocate for her city and at the same time she has been great about reaching out and asking how our two cities can cooperate for everyone’s good. I hope I get to work with her for a long time yet,” Brown concluded.

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